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7th & 10th Place Never Looked So Good; NCAA Drops The Ball On Puerto Rico League Ruling

By Gabrielle Paese

September 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Nearly a week has passed, so there's been plenty of time to think about it, but I'm still scratching my head and wondering how it is that Puerto Rico's basketball team beat eventual world champion Yugoslavia and yet was felled by New Zealand.

New Zealand?

How is it possible that they play better basketball in New Zealand than in Puerto Rico? How can it be that after beating Yugoslavia and Spain, a loss to New Zealand relegated Puerto Rico to seventh place?

However, watching Puerto Rico's double overtime loss for the second time gave me added insight. New Zealand did to Puerto Rico what no other team at last week's World Basketball Championship was able to do. The team from Oceania reduced its Puerto Rican rival to bickering and in-fighting.

So instead of uniting to defeat the opposing team, Puerto Rico tired as the clock ticked into double overtime and the players began to argue among each other instead of joining forces together. That crucial loss cost Puerto Rico a shot at the medal round.

Of course, there's plenty of consolation in seventh place. Most importantly, Puerto Rico beat Yugoslavia in the second round, so Carlos Arroyo and Danny Santiago must be sleeping well tonight knowing that only a few days before the final, they beat the two-time world champions. The island team also beat eventual second-place finisher Argentina during a tune-up game just before the tournament's start.

Most comforting of all is the fact that the United States, the odds-on favorite to win with its team of NBA All-Stars, finished sixth, its worst placing ever at the world championship. The U.S. team lost to Argentina, Yugoslavia and finally to Spain in the fifth-place game.

Finally, knowing that basketball's world order has been turned on its head offers hope for Puerto Rico for the next time.

This is the same kind of hope Puerto Rico's women's volleyball team must feel after finishing in an unprecedented 10th place at the World Volleyball Championship in Germany. Never before have the island women pulled off that kind of an upset and the victories over the Dominican Republic and Argentina show the strength of the sport's program from Guaynabo to Adjuntas.

That said, both Puerto Rico's Superior Basketball and Volleyball Leagues suffered a huge setback this week after the NCAA finally ruled to close the door on collegiate play in "pro" foreign leagues.

Puerto Rico's leagues had long slipped through an NCAA loophole -- while the leagues openly paid the "pro" players, Puerto Rico's collegiate players weren't renumerated and the NCAA classified Puerto Rico with semipro status.

Those days are over. The NCAA decided it no longer wants its "amateur" players participating in leagues where other players are receiving money for their work. Futile were the efforts of Puerto Rico's league leaders and their lawyers to convince the NCAA that the basketball and volleyball leagues are farm systems to help select the national teams.

What it means is that Puerto Rican athletes who want to accept scholarships to study at Division I schools can no longer gain valuable playing experience in the island's summer leagues.

It would be easy to accept the NCAA's decision if I felt they had the students' best interests at heart. But this decision actually smacks of xenophobia and is such an obvious show of power that it's hard to believe the NCAA even cares about its student athletes.

After all, who are we kidding here? NCAA athletes are not amateurs. The NCAA and the Division I schools are making mega bucks from the shows these student prospects put on weekly at university arenas. Yet the NCAA has deemed it unethical for the students to be paid for their services.

By squelching student athlete play in foreign leagues, it looks like the NCAA actually wants to make sure that foreign athletes don't get any competitive edge over U.S. athletes.

Ultimately, Puerto Rico's students will have to make a decision: Get a good education at a Division I school on a sports scholarship or play in the local leagues.

"What we can't accept is that they [high school students] decide not to go to college. That would be fatal," said Ricardo Carrillo, co-franchise holder of the Superior Basketball League's Santurce Cangrejeros.

It should be a no-brainer. National team volleyball player Aury Cruz, for example, has improved her international game by playing college ball at the University of Florida. But I suspect more than a few will opt to stay at home rather than miss out on league play.

"They'll have to choose one," said Puerto Rico Superior Volleyball League president Carlos Beltran. "They'll either have to pick Division I or the national tournament. They're going to have to analyze it. Those who see the league as part of their lives are going to stay home."

Cotto to face tough journeyman John Brown

Unbeaten junior welterweight prospect Miguel Cotto, (11-0, 8 KO), fights former four-time title challenger John Brown (23-9, 11KO) in the co-feature on Saturday's Oscar De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas fight in Las Vegas. Brown, who will battle Cotto for 10 rounds, has been in competitive matches with Angel Manfredy, Shane Mosley, Diego Corrales and twice with Steve Forbes. Against Mosley, Brown went eight rounds.

Cotto is heading into his sixth fight of the year. The former Olympian, who nearly saw his career end early after he broke his arm in four places in a car accident on Aug. 18, 2001, has knocked out his last seven opponents.

Since January, Cotto has scored knockout victories over Joshua Smith, Sammy Sparkman, Juan Angel Macias, Justin Juuko and Carlos Ramirez. The knockouts over Macias, Juuko and Ramirez came at a rate of one per month beginning in May.

It's a pace that father/trainer, Miguel, said was necessary to make up for lost time.

"We wanted to get his momentum back and get him some high visibility fights," said father, Miguel, referring to the time off Cotto needed to let his arm heal.

Cotto is also scheduled to fight on Nov. 23 in an HBO fight card in Caguas with a yet-to-be named opponent.

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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